CHARLESTON, W.Va.— Government records show West Virginia has the highest default rate on college student loans in the nation.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the default rate in West Virginia in 2016 was 18.3 percent, up from 16.2 percent in 2015. The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports it’s the largest percentage increase of any state.
The Education Department says nearly 9,600 people who started repaying their federal student debt in West Virginia in fiscal year 2014 defaulted on their loans by the fall of 2016.
Brian Weingart, senior director of financial aid for the Higher Education Policy Commission, said most of the defaulted loans came from the private, for-profit American Public University System based in Charles Town. The school had about 5,500 students who defaulted on their loans.
“If you take that one school out, our state default rate would go from 18.3 percent to 14 percent,” Weingart said.
Still, that would still be higher than the national average of 11.5 percent, which was up from 11.3 percent for the previous year.
Eight of the state’s nine two-year community colleges had default rates of 20 percent or higher, and two were higher than 30 percent: Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College (31.1 percent), which has multiple campuses, and Eastern Community and Technical College in Moorefield (30.4). The two schools are among the smallest in the state and had fewer than 40 students default.
Schools with default rates of 30 percent or greater are required to form a default prevention task force.
The only state community college with a default rate below 20 percent was BridgeValley Community and Technical College in South Charleston at 14.4 percent.
“The two-year (colleges) are doing a really good job of limiting the number of students who are borrowing student loans,” Weingart said. “So when you have less students borrowing, and a few students default, it looks like you have a higher default rate.”